3 Myths About Employee Happiness

As an employer, you might assume your employees are generally content with their work. But contentment — as in showing up and doing the job without complaining — is not the same as an engaged and happy workforce.

You want the latter, which refers to people who are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace. This type of employee shows up at work with an eagerness to overcome challenges, solve problems, and achieve set goals. They are the driving force of any business, but unfortunately, only about one-third of the U.S. workforce feels this enthusiastic about their job today.

What’s an employer to do? The first step is understanding what actually attracts top talent and leads to a loyal, productive, engaged workforce. Because it’s probably not what you think.

We looked to JUST Capital’s research to set the record straight on three common myths about what employees want.

Myth #1: It’s All About Money

The Truth: Over the past two years, we’ve asked American workers to imagine they’re considering accepting a job and have to choose between two companies — one that is more just but pays less, the other that is less just but pays more.

Consistent with 2018, three out of four working Americans in 2019 say they would choose to work for the more just company, even if it paid less (76% in 2018, 74% in 2019). In fact, this year, 78% of American workers said they would accept 10% less pay to work for a more just company. And a sizeable majority at 66% said they would accept 20% less pay.

This isn’t to say money doesn’t matter at all: Paying workers a fair wage based on job level, qualifications, and experience and paying a living wage that covers the local costs of basic needs are two of the top three most important Issues to Americans, according to our 2019 survey. But once those basics are met, more money may not matter as much as you think.

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Myth #2: Fancy Perks Attract Top Talent

The Truth: In an effort to make the workplace feel less like work, employers have tried a number of creative measures, including unlimited snacks, unconventional office furniture (read: bean bag chairs), and in-office recreation opportunities like ping-pong tables and yoga studios.

A recent Fortune article on attracting millennial talent specifically suggests nap rooms and pet-friendly policies to win them over. However, the same article makes it clear that these perks alone won’t cut it — and our data backs that up.

JUST Capital’s annual survey consistently shows that Americans put bread-and-butter issues first. People’s biggest priorities include making a living wage, good benefits, work-life balance, fairness in pay, and equal opportunity.

These features are a lot more complicated to implement than perks like a ping-pong table, but it’s worth it. Our research shows that investing in worker well-being is a win-win for workers and companies across all industries.

Myth #3: These Days, No One Wants to Stay at the Same Company for the Long Haul

The Truth: This one is a little tricky. You can find data to back it up: For example, a 2016 Deloitte survey found two-thirds of millennials expect to have left their current employers by 2020. But the survey points to a clear reason: Of the workers who want to leave their jobs within the next two years, more than 70% cite a lack of leadership development.

So, it’s not simply that younger employees prefer jumping around, but rather they value growth and development and they’re not afraid to shake things up to get the opportunities they need for their careers — whether that’s inside or outside of their current company.

If an employer wants to keep people satisfied and engaged for the long haul, they need to provide opportunities for advancement, skills development, and educational attainment.

This isn’t only true for millennials: Our research shows that across many demographics — liberal, conservative, high-income, low-income, men, women, millennials, and boomers — Americans want companies to create quality and stable jobs and to provide training and career development.

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